(1317) Pitta nepalense (Hodgs.).
The BLUE-NAPED PITTA.
Pitta nepalensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed, vol. iii, p. 444.
The Blue-naped Pitta is found throughout the Lower Himalayas from Eastern Nepal to the extreme East of Assam : it is common in Manipur, Looshai Hilts, Hill Tippera and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Eastern Bengal and further East to the Chin Hills and Northern Arakan Yomas or hill-ranges. It is most common between 1,500 and 3,000 feet, but occurs up to 6,000 feet as a breeding resident, while it may also occasionally breed down to the foot-hills in Dibrugarh,
Hume took its nest near Darjiling at about 4,000 feet and Gammie at 5,000 feet in the Cinchona-reserves, the latter in dense scrub. In Assam it was a common bird and we saw numerous nests, these being built in very different kinds of country. They never breed in the open or in grass-lands, however high the grass may be, otherwise they do not seem to mind much what the cover is. Probably they prefer dense secondary growth in deserted cultivation and next to that open bamboo-jungle without much undergrowth. I have, however, taken nests from dense evergreen forest, deciduous and thin forest and from bush and scrub growth on rocky hill-sides.
Most nests are built on the ground but others are constructed on trees, generally only a few feet up but, rarely, as high as 20 feet. When on the ground the nests are very loosely and untidily put together, great domed affairs, shaped like Rugby footballs and made of bamboo-leaves, grass and coarse roots, with an entrance at one end. The lining, if present, consists of roots very roughly placed at the bottom of the nest. It is quite impossible to move the nest from its original position, as it falls to pieces directly it is touched. The nest is sometimes hidden in among bushes and brambles on the hill-sides or in ravines, or it may be built in among the roots of bamboos but, usually, it is quite in the open, though so buried in bamboo-leaves and fallen debris that it is very inconspicuous. Indeed, the first nest I ever found was when I kicked a supposed accumulation of bamboo-leaves and was surprised to see a Pitta emerge from it and disappear with long hops, like a frightened rat. When made on trees it is a little better put together and consists more of fem-fronds, roots, grass-blades and weed-stems which, to some extent, help to keep the bamboos, dead leaves and other miscellaneous items in place. Even so the nests will hardly ever bear removal, and look far more like chance heaps of rubbish caught in a branch rather than birds’ nests. These tree-nests are generally built in stout forks of two or more upright boughs or in among a tangle of branches, while, often, the nests are built on platforms of rubbish placed by the birds in convenient positions on which the nests may rest.
In size the nests may be as much as 12 or 15 inches the long way by 9 to 12 across the shorter axis. The internal cavity is generally some 5 or 6 inches each way, but it is, like the outside, very untidy.
The great majority of birds lay in May and June but, at the lower levels, a fair number of eggs may be found in April. I have taken fresh eggs up to the end of August and, probably, a majority of birds have two broods in the year.
The normal full clutch of eggs is four, but five is not uncommon and even six may be found occasionally.
The eggs are exceptionally constant both in colour and character. The ground is a glossy china-white sparingly spotted with primary markings of reddish-brown and secondary ones of lilac or lavender grey. The spots are nearly always more numerous at the larger end and often very scanty at the smaller. Very exceptionally the spots become small blotches, while still more rarely there are a few lines and hieroglyphics scattered among the spots at the larger end. A rather unusual type has the primary markings very pale reddish hardly any darker than the lilac secondary ones, both being rather numerous over the whole surface, giving the impression of a lilac-marked clutch. Looked at as a series they are handsome eggs, very spherical, very glossy white, boldly but sparsely spotted.
One hundred eggs average 29.5 x 22.4 mm. : maxima 32.4 x 24.1 and 31.2 x 25.6 mm. ; minima 26.1 x 23.3 and 28.0 x 21.8 mm.
Both birds take part in building the nest, but I cannot say whether the male does anything more than bring the materials, as I have never seen him placing them in position. Both birds incubate and the male seems to do bis full share of this work.
Incubation, I think, takes seventeen days. A nest found on the 14th May with four eggs had five young, apparently just batched, on the 2nd June.
The birds return year after year to the same site for nesting, and a pair inhabited a nullah close to my house in Gunjong, building a nest every May in almost exactly the same spot under some small bamboo-clumps. This pair, presumably the same, was known to me for ten years, each year having two broods, the first egg being invariably laid on the 4th to 6th May, while the number laid was always four. Unfortunately I was nearly always away during a great part of May each year Gaur-shooting, so that I was unable to watch the progress of building and hatching.
1317. Pitta nepalensis
(1317) Pitta nepalense (Hodgs.).